Automation: Extending assets’ lifecycle

Greg Hale, Nelia Mazula, and Dora Laine

February 1, 2016

Greg Hale, Dassault Systemes' Nelia Mazula and freelancer Dora Laine explain how digitizing information can help improve uptime, increase production and optimize resource utilization in the asset-intense industry oil and gas industry.

The most critical challenge was managing the overall asset lifecycle cost, executives said in a joint IBM/Dassault Systèmes study of large oil and gas companies. 

Heading into a year of lower profits projections, it would be easy to just batten down the hatches and wait until next year, when the price of oil could be on the rise.

Whether the price of oil increases, decreases or stays the same, the industry has to learn and embrace the idea of streamlining all processes and getting the most out its assets.

It is no surprise that 85% of oil and gas executives said that the overall cost of project ownership is the most important problem they will need to address in an effort to streamline how they execute capital projects. With over 200 mega projects in oil and gas and chemicals around the world, coupled with severe market volatility, executives are looking for solutions to manage intellectual information in a scalable environment. Engineering technologies will have to manage multi-asset globalized big data environments while offering domain capability. This combination of needs has been referred to as intelligence management or intelligence planning.

“People are trying to achieve more with less,” said Tim Wenman, senior consultant, asset integrity at Shell Global Solutions International, in a report published by Shell. “When companies want to reduce costs (capex) they are often reluctant to invest in new equipment, so the focus has to be on extending the life of existing assets. But, if you don’t do that properly, then you can experience loss of process containment and reliability will also suffer.”

Ensuring a reliable operation, boosting efficiency and reducing unplanned downtime through improved asset management can help producers grow in a down market and will help increase margins when prices start rising.

Managing workforce dynamics was the second most important challenge to their business, executives said in the survey. 

Multiple causes

The drivers for this intelligence technology include the continued volatility in oil prices, retiring knowledge, aging infrastructure, and increased regulatory and environmental scrutiny. Additionally, global volatility and changing energy sources including increased availability of petroleum through the onset of shale gas as well as more efficient forms of renewable energy is forcing oil producers to cut costs while stimulating downstream refiners and chemical companies to efficiently invest into the future.

In a joint IBM/Dassault Systèmes study of large oil and gas companies, executives categorized the challenges that have the most impact on their business. As total cost of ownership of oil and gas plants is generally greater than the initial capital outlay cost, executives said the most critical challenge was managing the overall asset lifecycle cost. This can occur via better access to up-to-date information throughout a plant’s lifespan, which provides a sound foundation for decision-making.

There are more than 6700 platforms in operation around the world, at least 2000 of which have been in operation over 20 years, some way past their original design life. That means operators have to make sure an asset can continue to perform its required function effectively, safely and productively.

In addition, industry averages show 5% of production capacity is lost each year due to unplanned downtime and in a down market those numbers can help keep a company in the black.

Aging out

After managing the overall asset lifecycle, 80% of executives in the survey said managing workforce dynamics was the second most important challenge to their business, such as retiring knowledge, operator training and the need to leverage global or remote resources. It remains vital to have access to information accumulated during projects and to make it available to personnel who need to know. This promotes continuity, increased skills, and helps makes the best use of the expertise and equipment available.

Just think, with Baby Boomers leaving and a dearth of younger engineers, it helps to have more automation to replace vacant desks, but it also helps to standardize and make sure everyone has the right training and understands the standard operating procedures.

The third top challenge, according to the survey, is the need for repeatability, which drives predictability in capital projects. Reusing proven methods and designs from past projects speeds new project delivery and reduces costs and risks. Once again, the key is easy access to, and reuse of, the right information.

Need for collaboration

To mitigate the challenges, stakeholders could benefit from technology that can improve access to information and to increase collaboration between internal and external workers. Technology-enhanced training solutions can improve the quality of information provided to operators and maintenance personnel. Technology can also play a key role in capitalizing intellectual property and corporate best practices as oil and gas plants’ extended lifespans require the ability to “remember” every decision made and every solution implemented. Companies can benefit by digitally transforming their operations and using technology, to standardize, simplify and streamline information access.

To move forward, operators need to focus on upgrading performance and boosting economic viability.

Oil and gas producers need to ask:

To drive digital transformation, companies need to focus on the ability to access decision-critical information in real time, engage in predictive and prescriptive maintenance, and streamline and automate workflows all with full traceability of intellectual capital throughout the plant lifecycle. This sustainability of a company’s intellectual capital helps drive long-term growth and profitability even in the face of changing market conditions and employee turnover.

Companies can promote a culture of innovation by leveraging collaborative capabilities to harness project stakeholders’ creative energies and insights using social media tools to exchange ideas and share expertise.

Workers from multiple organizations and functions can work together on the same digital representation of a facility to ensure optimum fit and interaction between their disciplines.

It only makes sense, better collaboration helps organizations efficiently manage projects and reduce late-stage errors. Simulation tools allow companies, for example, to leverage information from 3D digital subsurface models to increase production by developing more accurate drilling plans or to run fit-for-service simulations on existing plants to determine the fitness of critical equipment.

With advancements in technology, 3D and visualization allows companies to hike competence in training workers, as well as improve efficiency and operational safety.

Producers will survive and maintain profitability by increasing production efficiency and cost savings. What will move producers to the next level is software and technology, which will cull important information to increase production efficiency and cost savings.

Companies that capture and digitally model their information are on the right path to better enterprise intelligence planning.